Sunday, June 5, 2022

Living in Hope: The Way of Christ (Part 2)

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
    Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. --Acts 2:1-21 (CEB)

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. --Philippians 4:4-8 (CEB)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Do you ever think about the Holy Spirit on that Pentecost day? More specifically, the sound of the Holy Spirit. Like a wind, our text tells us. It was a sound unheard at creation, but, here, on Pentecost it is like a wind.

Do you imagine what it sounded and felt like?  Do you imagine it was a soft, gentle breeze? Like the ones that we sometimes get here on a summer day, that make the heat of the day seem just a little more tolerable? Or do you imagine it to be a stronger wind? The type of wind that we also experience here - the wind that signals a coming storm front? That tells us our weather is about to change?

I think alot about the Holy Spirit as being like the wind. I always have. Maybe it’s because of growing up on the prairie where the wind blew constantly. Often a gentle breeze. But, sometimes, really strong winds. What we now call straight line winds. Winds that can be disorienting. Frightening. Unpredictable. Destructive. Even violent.

That was what the Holy Spirit sounded like that day. On that Jewish feast day, Shavuot. Or Pentecost in Greek. Meaning fifty. Because it was commanded to come fifty days after Passover. One of three of the primary Jewish festivals for which people were commanded to return to Jerusalem. Shavuot, or Pentecost, celebrated the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai during the Exodus - God’s Instruction coming down to God’s people. 

They had come from all over. We heard the names of the places near and far: Parthia. Mede. Elam. Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia. Asia. As far away as Rome. (Thank you, Gary, for reading all of those names.) Jerusalem swelled with diverse people on that day.  People who spoke many different languages. Who looked very different, one from the other.

And, then, they heard the sound. A tornadic sound. A sound so loud and violent that they rushed to see what was happening. When they arrived, not only did they see tongues of fire dancing on the heads of Jesus’ followers, but, incredibly, they began to hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. Breaking down the barriers between them.

Breaking down the barriers. Isn’t that what Jesus would have done had he been there? WWJD? What would Jesus do? Exactly what Jesus’ Spirit was doing. Breaking down the barriers.

I had a troubling conversation on Friday. 

Some of you may know that in December, after the tornadoes hit the western part of our state, the Bishop asked me to be one of two disaster coordinators - a co-coordinator - in our synod. When the Bishop asks…well, you know the drill. It’s pretty impossible to say no. 

So, I’ve been working with a colleague - Pastor Grace Pardun-Alworth, who serves St. Matthew’s in Paducah. Interestingly, she and I were classmates at Luther Seminary. 

On Friday morning, we were on a video call with the director of case management for Catholic Charities, based in Owensboro. Also on the call with us were each of the lead case managers assigned to work in the 16 counties that have been declared disaster areas. The director told us about some of the conversations she’d been having with volunteers coming in from churches and faith-based organizations from across the region - coming to help with the rebuilding process, now in its very early stages. 

She shared that some of these conversations have been very difficult. That when some of the volunteers hear that they’re being assigned to help rebuild a home for some who is gay. Or lesbian. Or undocumented. These Christian volunteers refuse to help them and ask to be reassigned somewhere else. Because, after all, you know God doesn’t like these kinds of people.

How small we make God! 

Father Greg Boyle, who I’ve mentioned before - he’s a Jesuit priest who works in the heart of east Los Angeles - says that “God’s dream come true is a sense of kinship and connection, that everybody would enter into a kind of exquisite mutuality with each other.” 

We need to break out of the kind of God that’s so tiny. And that’s a mirror image of ourselves. We know that we’ve created God in our own image when we discover that God hates the same people we do.

This is the disruptive and transformational work of the Holy Spirit. When we say, “God, it’s not about me, but about you” God says, “It’s not about me, it’s about you.” It’s about a compassion for the other that stands in awe of all that people have to carry rather than living in judgment of them. Awe is where God wants us to be. To honor others. To move past barriers rather than judging them and distancing ourselves from them. 

It’s about kinship. Kinship and connection. That’s really what the kingdom of God is about. Kinship. Because, the natural by-product of kinship is peace and justice. After all, it’s really hard to demonize someone you know.

Isn’t that Paul’s message, too? A message of gentleness. Gentleness here, which means a willingness to submit to injustice. To risk maltreatment. To break down barriers in order to move in closer so that we might, through the transformational power of the Holy Spirit, build kinship and connection. (Doesn’t that sound just like the “mind of Christ” we heard about last week in Philippians 3?) 

We love because God first loved us. That’s God’s hope. That’s the only kind of praise God is interested in.

So, on this Pentecost day, as we are soon to witness Lorelei affirming her baptism - may we reaffirm ours, as well: to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Amen.

Preached June 5, 2022, at Grace & Glory, Prospect, with Third, Louisville, and New Goshen Presbyterian, Prospect.
Day of Pentecost
Readings: Acts 2:1-21, Philippians 4:4-8, John 14:16-17

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